28th December 2007

User Generated Help and How-to Content Model

Occasionally it feels like those of us focused on the social media phenomena live a little bit in a vacuum.  While the circle seems to be growing, there are times where it feels like we are all preaching to the choir - to the already converted.  We read each others blogs, follow each other on , friend each other in , attend many of the same conferences, etc.  Most of this is great!  Heck, it is a bit of the theme of how I named this blog - "group therapy."  There’s a lot of value in those of us with common interests and challenges getting together and sharing experiences, ideas and new learning.  I do wonder how we all measure whether we are broadening the circle of those embracing social media.  It struck me at a recent conference (that was great by the way) that everyone in the room was essentially bought in on the topic in a significant way.  This is good in that it gathered really amazing people and inspired focused conversations, and we need that.  It was bad in that it didn’t feel like the circle really grew that day.  Out of that conference, I committed that in 2008, I will focus more of my conference time on industry events where social media is a track, vs THE TRACK - for example, I just committed to speak at SSPA in May. 

What gets missed sometimes in our swarming with each other is capturing the simple examples that help illustrate how the business and user engagement model changes in a web 2.0 world.  Content is one of my favorite illustrations of this.  Many companies spend extraordinary amounts of money on content for their users - for this post, let’s focus on help and support content.  Here are a few examples:

Once the investment is made in an authoring model (in house or vendor), more money is spent to localize the content - all of which, at best, serves the fat part of the long tail of help and support content needed to really assist the breadth and depth of users.  There’s nothing unique about this model, this has been in place for many years and as we know, changing the model is not simple.  This is obvious ground for community models (Q&A support forums and wikis).  Most are doing this, though in very few cases are these different models integrated - look at the sites and it’s clear these are silo’d efforts.  If your users can draw your org chart just by navigating your web pages - you have an integration problem…ok, opportunity:)  Does a single search crawl both in-house and user generated content?  What about user generated content beyond the bounds of yourcompany.com.  For example, look at this 6 minute video on Youtube of   Note the # of views, stars, favorites and the two most recent comments!


How should Microsoft (Disclosure - I work at Microsoft right now) treat this content on Youtube?  What are the processes to discover content like this?  How do you decide what to include or not?  How much risk do you take with dead links to external content that can vanish?  What should be done about the video creator - this is an influencer - probably should thank him at a minimum - but much more should be done (another day, other posts on influencer program development). 

A more radical view of this would be the following question:  When do you stop authoring content in house? (and re-deploy that investment to drive a user generated content model?)

Before I go further, let’s be realistic. You probably can’t just stop authoring content.  There will be some content you may always need to author.  Security content for example - where many users will expect vendor created (and legally indemnified content).  You may also find that this enables a shift in which content you write - more pre-release and deployment/training content and less help and how-to content.  Likewise, there is a business scorecard problem.  Businesses measure results on a monthly/quarterly/annual basis - particularly when we are talking about investments like content.  So, how can you achieve a breakthrough in results from a new, user driven model, when your scorecard is assuming continuous quarter over quarter improvement.  This conflict quickly converts companies from being risk takers to risk averse. 

What would happen if you stopped writing content and converted your entire KB/FAQ process to a wiki?  In the near term?  There’s a high probability the quality of your content would initially go down (at least that is the right expectation to set).  User generated content is not the holy grail, it won’t solve world peace.  This is where the scorecard conflict is key - you need executive patience in longer term goals than quarterly results.  Look at Wikipedia…a few years ago there was plenty of debate about its accuracy - now it is generally accepted (and research has supported) to be as accurate, or more than, commercially published encyclopedias.  In fact, a simple example is to look at how current it is.  When will that old school publishing model be updated with yesterdays assassination of Benazir Bhutto.  Wikipedia took less than 24 hrs and it’s not just in English, but here in French, Spanish, Dutch…and many more. 

The real answer is more about percentage of content authored in-house vs via community - move from 80-90% internal to 80-90% user generated.  While the quality might initially go down, there is little question that ultimately a user generated content model will be more complete (topic and language) and at least  as good (likely far better) than anything that can be done in house.  Depending on your business, you need to forecast how long this transition might take - will it exceed the old model in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years?  What’s the bet?  What’s the tolerance for the duration?  How do you risk mitigate the potential quality dip?  You know you will have resisters who on day 1 will email around links to some user submitted piece that is terrible - are you prepared - is the corporate culture ready to withstand these bumps?

By now you should also be thinking about the revised scorecard.  Why are you doing all this?  To save cost on content?  Deflect calls from your call center?  Reach more users?  Increase satisfaction (users find what they want)?  All valid goals, but with only these elements, it’s likely a richer scorecard than what most organizations have today around help and how-to content.

Practical social media for business.  I like it, wonder what you think?


Popularity: 86% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Examples, Influencers, Microsoft, Social Media, Why Community Matters, online communities | 4 Comments

30th June 2007

Did Charles Darwin launch Web 2.0…

Ok…maybe not.  But as a distraction, I picked up the latest National Geographic (July2007) and sat back for a read and behold, the article that jumps out at me is "The Genius of Swarms:  Ants, bees, and birds teach us how to cope with a complex world." 


Wow…what a great alternative way to describe the value of mass collaboration.

One method of describing community never works for everyone, so whenever I can add to my portfolio some great new examples that tell the story, I take note.  In fact, it’s not unusual for part of the resistance to this emerging trend to be some form of "it’s not natural."  It’s not hierarchical like a normal businesses, so how can these apparently leaderless communities accomplish anything, much less do so efficiently.

Well, thank you National Geographic.  The article explores how collective behaviors in nature have enabled many species to survive, thrive and solve seemingly impossible problems.  For years, scientists have been mapping, studying and simulating these swarm tactics in an effort to both understand it and to apply it to business problems.  Overall, the article asks a very important question…THE question: "How do the simple actions of individuals add up to the complex behavior of a group?"

A few of my favorite parts of the article:

Deborah Gordon (Stanford biologist):  "If you watch an ant try to accomplish something, you’ll be impressed with how inept it is.  Ants aren’t smart.  Ant colonies are."  …as colonies they respond quickly and efficiently to their environment.  (swarm intelligence).

I love this term…"Swarm intelligence" -  Though I think it would be a mistake to assume "swarm idiocy" also doesn’t exist - though this may be unique to human swarms:)

One key to an ant colony, for example, is that no one’s in charge.  No generals command ant warriors.  No managers boss ant workers.  The queen plays no role but to lay eggs. Even with half a million ants, a colony functions just fine with no management at all - at least none that we would recognize.  It relies instead upon countless interactions between individual ants, each of which is following simple rules of thumb.  Scientists describe such a system as self-organizing.

I describe such a system as an online community. Simple rules of thumb are the code of conduct (written or unwritten norms) in a community.  Yes, ok, many communities benefit from some moderation/leadership in some form, but these are not leaders in a hierarchical sense - in fact, they are able to lead precisely because it is not a hierarchy, and if they leave others fill the space.

The bees rules for decision-making - seek a diversity of options, encourage a free competition among ideas, and use an effective mechanism to narrow choices.

Nice job Dell…lovin’ Ideastorm.

That’s the wonderful appeal of swarm intelligence.  Whether we’re talking about ants, bees, pigeons, or caribou, the ingredients of smart group behavior - decentralized control, response to local cues, simple rules of thumb - add up to a shrewd strategy to cope with complexity.

…an important truth about collective intelligence.  Crowds tend to be wise only if individual members act responsibly and make their own decisions.  A group won’t be smart if its members imitate one another, slavishly follow fads, or wait for someone to tell them what to do.  When a group is being intelligent, whether it’s made up of ants or attorneys it relies on its members to do their own part.  For those of us who sometimes wonder if it’s really worth recycling that extra bottle to lighten our impact on the planet, the bottom line is that our actions matter, even if we don’t see how.

Beyond the obvious intersection with communities, there’s a broader message here I like as well about the additive impact of individual actions…There’s plenty more to love about this article including a couple of great business examples and input from James Surowiecki.

Hope you love the story as much as I do!  What do you think?


Popularity: 18% [?]

posted in Social Media, Why Community Matters, web 2.0 | 3 Comments

3rd June 2007

"Where for art thou" Community ROI

It seems I might be the only web 2.0 blogger who hasn’t blogged about the trouble with community ROI.  Well, time to remedy that.  I don’t know if there is any secret sauce here, but hopefully you will see some things that are either useful or you can add to the list!

Community ROI is a high anxiety topic at every community event I’ve attended…I expect it will be again at this weeks online community unconference. (By the way, I’ll be there and I’m planning to facilitate a session on influencer programs - stop in and say hello.)  Whenever the topic comes up, I’m reminded of why I named this blog Community Group Therapy…as the discussion invariable turns into "group therapy" on the difficulty of community ROI.

Community ROI Group Therapy Session notes:

Albert:  "You know, we had our whole community planned out…forums, RSS, reputation system, it was gonna be GREAT…then that damned finance guy threw me under the bus!!  What’s the ROI he said"

Therapist:  "How does that make you feel Albert?"

Albert: "I’d like to shove his ROI right up his…."

Therapist: "Hold on!  Albert, try to stay with us here.  Who else has something to say that might help Albert on his ROI troubles."


Sheila:  "My boss didn’t get it either, he couldn’t even spell ‘rss’."

Therapist:  "Ok, ok everyone.  We are approaching the end of our session.  Let’s have a hug and we’ll continue this next week."

Sheila to Jerry outside the meeting:  "Are you coming next week?  I like these sessions, but I’m just not sure what I’m getting out of it."

Enough of that…let’s get back to the task at hand…the ROI model for community.  To start, what is ROI?  Well, feel free to review  Wikipedia for a more formal definition, but simplified for a business, ROI is what measurable benefit does the business get from a particular expense (often, but not solely, viewed as increased revenue or lowered costs).  I’ve see quite a few published metrics on the value of community.  For example:

-  Cost per interaction in customer support averages $12 via the contact center versus $0.25 via self-service options. (Forrester, 2006)
- Community users visit nine times more often than non-community users (McKInsey, 2000).
- Community users have four times as many page views as non-community users (McKInsey, 2000).
- 56% percent of online community members log in once a day or more (Annenberg, 2007)
- Customers report good experiences in forums more than twice as often as they do via calls or mail. (Jupiter, 2006)

These kinds of metrics provide a good framework to think about community metrics and may be very useful if you are starting a new community, but where I work, these are interesting, not fascinating.  I live in a world where industry metrics are good theory, but rarely can they stand alone and get you the needed resources to run your community.  So, hopefully we can add to the list a range of methods for ROI pursuit.

In an earlier post, I claimed that web 2.0 has the potential to impact all 3 primary functions of a business (what it builds, how it sells/markets and how it supports), so I guess it only makes sense I use these general categories for structuring the ROI discussion.  I won’t claim to use all of these, in fact, later I will encourage you NOT to use all of these.  I also won’t claim these are easy to get and measure, it takes effort and time to get there.


  • Content cost - Do you have a knowledgebase?  What does it cost you to author content (In house? Offshore? Vendor?)  Cost per piece of content per page view is a useful baseline metric.  Made even better if you index that against satisfaction on the content (did it help the user solve their problem).  Now, compare this model to a user generated model - do you let your enthusiasts author formal help/how to content?  Do you harvest Q&A pairs from your forums as content?  I don’t think I’ve talked to a single company that has really tied their content/documentation cost to their investments in community/user generated content.
  • Content availability/coverage - What is the state of your Long Tail on content.  This is an even bigger issue than content cost - it is the opportunity cost of dissatisfied customers who don’t find answers (of course you can correlate dissatisfaction with re-purchase).  What will drive more more online success by your users…the next 10K articles you write or the next 100,000 forum, blog, wiki, podcast or other community contributions by your users?  Does online success = satisfaction?  That is certainly measurable.  The message here is that your communities are content - whatever ROI model you use today on content should apply - but don’t look at them in isolation.
  • Localization - Let’s look at this separately.  Everything that is true of the limitations of your content in English is even more true in non-english.  Here’s a link to our MSDN Wiki in Brazilian Portuguese as an example.  Again, the same calculations are possible here.  Localization cost.  Content gap costs (Satisfaction correlated to repurchase). 
  • Overall Support cost - And don’t forget, those that don’t find their answer online are much more likely to call your call center.  The irony here is no one wants this.  In general today, few users want to call for phone based help and support.  It’s the last resort - so, they don’t want to call you and those calls are the most expensive part of your support business - this business case has potential.  Measuring call avoidance turns out to be pretty hard - how to measure what doesn’t happen??  This is a long term metric - not your bread and butter.
  • Summary - virtuous cycle - it just so happens that what your users want (great online self help) costs you less and done well delivers more content/answers for users questions resulting in higher satisfaction - ok, yes, you have to go instrument this in your world, but I can’t help with that:)  If I had to pick one thing here to figure out, it would be the following:  What is your cost, per point of user satisfaction across your support contact portfolio (Phone, web, community). 

Sales & Marketing

  • Sales:  If you are driving online transactions from your web portal this should be pretty measureable.  This is not what we do, but I couldn’t leave this out of the post.
  • Affinity / Loyalty / Satisfaction:  Most companies of some size run some sort of annual broad customer satisfaction survey/research methodology.   Most surveys are trying to get at driver analysis and correlation data.  This might tell you obvious things like product quality is the #1 driver of Satisfaction, but how much does support contribute?  What about content?  other indicators.  Most of us do this stuff.  The relevant issue here is whether you embedded community participation questions into your satisfaction measurement process.  Can you correlate any of the following to your users who participate in community verses those that do not?  (If you don’t have the "verses" part, you have nothing!!).  So do your users who participate in community have…
    • Higher overall satisfaction with your company? or particular product/service.
    • Higher likelihood to recommend?
    • Higher likelihood to repurchase? or purchase companion/related products/services.
    • Higher satisfaction with support?
    • Higher perception of Image or Brand?
    • hint:  I didn’t just invent this list as random examples :)
  • Image/Brand:  If you are big brand company, you likely spend big bucks researching, building and protecting that brand.  (another hint here…anything you currently spend big bucks on is good territory for ROI…if you spend nothing on it today, your resource ask is incremental!!  It may still be good, but accept the fact that it is incremental cost!!).  There are a wealth of companies out there now offering services for online community sentiment analysis (BuzzMetrics, Clarabridge & Visible Technologies to name a few).  I’m a big fan of this as a method for improving brand/product/service research.

Product / Program Development

This is an area I have blogged about already, so for sake of shortening up this too long blog post, let me link and summarize.  This is about the following key measurement areas: Product, policy and program feedback.  Beta / pre-release feedback.  Market / Competitive research.  Supportability.

Here’s the link to previous post on Insights you can use.  The one I didn’t cover as much was Supportability, so let me expand on this.  Supportability comes in a couple of different forms:

  • How do the drivers of call volume differ from the drivers of posting volume in your support forums?  Trust me - they are different!  And this is valuable/measurable. 
  • What are the top issues reported by your influencers/community mavens - you need to pay particular attention to this.

The one pitfall I would point out is not to get "drunk" with the wealth of ROI model options for community.  The failure of this I think is trying to explain/pitch too many ROI benefits and the listener gets lost in your story - remember, you have the curse of knowledge.  Also remember, you are probably NOT in the community business…community is more likely a means not the end (obvious exceptions out there).  So, stop pitching community and start pitching the ROI benefits!! Online success rate!!  Satisfaction!!  Cost model improvements!  Product improvement!  This your listener will understand way better than RSS, Wiki, Forum, etc, etc, etc.

I thought I should link here to others worth reading, but a short inspection told me there were too many to list…so, feel free to scroll my blog roll and check others opinions if you’d like.  Or, I tagged some in delicious here.


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Popularity: 32% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Examples, Voice of Customer, Why Community Matters, web 2.0 | 14 Comments

10th May 2007

Is your Baby Ugly? aka - convincing the unconverted on communities…part V

Ok, true enough, I’m actually titling Part 5 here as "Ugly Baby."

What’s another reason why it is so important you engage with your users in your communities?  Well, I’ve talked before about several ways to build this case - links below.  Many authors and speakers who are more elegant than I like to to talk about "building customer loyalty."  Well, what does that really mean?  In a session last week I described this as the act of building a sense of maternity or paternity for your products, content, company - a sense of ownership by your users - nothing is more powerful.  It’s a simple and sticky idea (hint: book review coming soon):  Everyone has seen an ugly baby, but nobody’s baby is ever ugly.


For reference…links back to first 4 parts:

Part 1:  The Analogy

Part 2:  Fear by Example

Part 3:  Data / Evidence approach

Part 4:  Assumptive Close


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Popularity: 69% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Community Development, Convincing the uncoverted, Part 1-4, Social Media, Why Community Matters, web 2.0 | 1 Comment

2nd March 2007

Convincing the Unconverted…BBQ Forum update…

I almost couldn’t have a better example of what I’m talking about on the virtual and viral nature of community.  If you read my initial post on Convincing the unconverted, I talked about the power of the analogy by using my own personal story of BBQing…well, a few days later, the following email showed up in my inbox (names changed for privacy).

Good morning, Sean,

I’m Joe BBQ, the Marketing Coordinator for Cookshack, Inc. I came upon your blog post (https://communitygrouptherapy.com/2007/02/13/convincing-the-unconverted-on-communities/), in which you mention the Cookshack Barbecue Forum. Thank you for the kind words about the forum, it was great to read. I hope that you are still visiting the forum often.

March is the 6 year anniversary of the Barbecue Forum, I would love to quote from, and link to, your blog post about the Cookshack Barbecue Forum in our e-mail newsletter The Backyard Barbecue News. Would that be alright with you?



Marketing Coordinator

Cookshack, Inc.


I couldn’t have scripted this better if I tried.  I love my Cookshack BBQ and the fact that someone at Cookshack somehow got my post and took this action is a really cool acknowledgement of their commitment to realizing the value of communities to their user base.  Bravo Cookshack…you got me again!!  See you in "Q-ing" forums!


Popularity: 22% [?]

posted in Examples, General Community Discussion, Social Media, Voice of Customer, Why Community Matters, web 2.0 | 4 Comments

26th February 2007

A little discussion on "Corporate Transparency"…


In Convincing the Unconverted, Part 3, I shared a list of reasons, or motivations, for businesses to engage in community development.  One of the topics I mentioned was Image or the "humanization" of your company.  I thought this topic deserved a bit more exploration.

To me, we reached this point through natural evolution (The Evolution of Consumer Empowerment) aided by a cocktail of recent catalysts driving corporate transparency.

  • A new generation (Gen "Y")
  • Sarbanes-Oxley
  • Web 2.0

A New Generation:

Let’s start with a short discussion on Generation Y (roughly those born between 1981 and 1999) and "why" I think this is important.  A quick review of Gen Y is helpful and wikipedia provides a good baseline.

Note:  There is considerable controversy on the naming of this generation, including "net gen, millenials, google gen (I hate this one - oops, bias slipped in), gen next," etc.

The point of this post is not to dive into these inherently controversial topics, but to talk about how these generational differences are leading to Corporate Transparency.  I think anyone who has ever had parents or children (I’m hoping that gets everyone here) can agree that there are significant differences between the generations.  While our parents might look at us and think we should behave more like them and we look at them thinking they should behave like us, the reality is neither will happen - the same will be true for our children.  The example that brought this home for me in a business context was a colleague who said the following:

Today’s 22 year old coming out of college into the workforce will have the expectation that they can just walk into the CEO’s office and present and defend their ideas.

It was a simple anecdote, but it struck me that I think it’s generally true.  Now, I’m not judging this as good or bad, right or wrong, only substantially different than the way most traditional companies function today - you "earn the right" vs "expect the right," so to speak.  This is the generation of interaction.  Not the gen that watched TV as much as they played online.  Not the gen that watched the evening news, but the gen that created the news in the blogosphere.  The traditional company will think these "kids" should behave like their "parents" and these new "kids" will not understand why their "parents" aren’t behaving like them.  (In a future post I will explore this further in the context of how communities could impact the traditional corporate HR functions.)  In the end, businesses are people-driven and will need to evolve to learn from and leverage these generational changes, or you can be sure they will suffer from talent retention.  This new generation will bring with it a fundamental shift in how knowledge within companies, with users and across partners is shared.  Strap on your seatbelt, they may well know something you don’t.


I look at Sarbanes-Oxley as another catalyst driving corporate transparency (albeit the stick vs the carrot..).  This legislation was passed in response to several scandals involving accounting irregularities - most notably with Enron, Tyco and Worldcom. These scandals ushered in a new era of corporate distrust.  Suddenly, we not only wanted increase corporate accountability and transparency, but we wanted it for much more basic reasons.  Enter Maslow’s Hierarchy on needs.  We didn’t want this transparency for reasons of belonging, esteem, or self-actualization (strong drivers I would associate deeply with Gen Y), but for very fundamental reasons of Safety.  People, a lot of people, got hurt in what can only be describes as outrageously offensive corporate acts.

Read/Write Web:

Enter Web 2.0.  A new, highly engaged and interactive generation born in the age of online gaming, , and is driving a wave of participative-culture change, fueled by an environment of corporate distrust.  A great cocktail for re-inventing how business gets done in the social web.  In this new business reality, static or non-interactive web pages offer little value to a generation looking for interaction and discussion.  This is where your company, or more specifically your employees (who, by the way, are more and more represented by Gen Y) come in.  I may not know what your company does, but I know what most of your web pages say without ever visiting them.  What I want is a relationship and I can’t have a relationship with a Web 1.0 portal.  I want to interact with your employees through employee blogs.  I want to connect with and read content written by other users.  I want to participate in product feedback and discussions.  I want to help myself and I’d rather not talk to you on the phone (in your call center).  These are my new expectations.   How you as a company choose to engage in this new openness is your opportunity for transparency and your opportunity to re-invent your image and humanize your company through personal connections.  Remember, it’s easy to dislike a company - it is harder to dislike the people, once you know and relate with them.

Sure, there are lots of other catalysts contributing to this evolution, including Moore’s law, broadband proliferation, mobile phone penetration, etc - but I see these more as enablers of change vs agents of change.

Any thoughts on this?


Popularity: 25% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Examples, General Community Discussion, Social Media, Why Community Matters, web 2.0 | 17 Comments

23rd February 2007

Politics and Online Community - who’s good?


Great examples of community often come at the intersections of passionate debate. So in the spirit of taking a look at communities from an “analytical” standpoint, I thought a great issue to follow would be the race for the US presidency in 2008. Below is a list I compiled that I think captures at least everyone who has declared intent to run for president. I’m sure I missed someone, so feel free to add to this list. That said, if I did miss someone, you might argue they are already in trouble – too hard to find!


Tom Vilsack: http://www.tomvilsack08.com/

Bill Richardson: http://richardsonforpresident.com/

Barack Obama: http://www.barackobama.com/

Dennis Kucinich: http://kucinich.us/

Mike Gravel: http://gravel08.us/

John Edwards: http://johnedwards.com/

Christopher Dodd: http://www.chrisdodd.com/home

Hillary Clinton: http://www.hillaryclinton.com/

Joe Biden: http://www.joebiden.com/home


Rudy Giuliani: http://www.joinrudy2008.com/

Samuel Brownback: http://www.t-worx.com/Default.aspx?alias=www.t-worx.com/brownback

John Herman Cox: http://www.cox2008.com/cox/

Duncan Hunter: http://www.gohunter08.com/Home.aspx

John McCain: http://www.exploremccain.com/?sid=msn

Tom Tancredo: http://www.teamtancredo.org/

To be fair, this will be far from the first elections to embrace communities and social networking as part of their campaign strategy.

For an illustration of how online communities are already impacting the process, check out the following article: “Obama backers find voice on Facebook."  A quick look into takes you to the following ,  where you’re presented with the following facts about this grassroots effort:

THE STATS (on the Obama facebook community)
Created January 16th, 2007
100 - (Jan 16th) Reached. Within 1 hr!
1,000 - (Jan 19th) Reached. By Jan 17th
10,000 - (Jan 26th) Reached. 6 days early!
100,000 - (Feb 1st) Reached. 1 week early!
250,000 - (Feb 5th) Reached Feb. 10th
500,000 - (Mar 10th)
750,000 - (Apr 10th)
1,000,000 - (May 10th)

A further look at www.barackobama.com shows you this on the front page:

Nice range of community features, including discussions, networking, personalization and a connection from online to offline (Find supporters near you). And obviously this scales the fund raising process like crazy!!

I also like the notion of McCainspace to at: http://www.johnmccain.com/Connecting/. Enables quick supporting web site creation and YouTube town halls for outreach.

John Edwards has been active here too.  But, his model appears to be the shotgun model, sprinkling across everything with unclear focus almost by design. - I don’t think I like this.

Now, DO NOT read this as an endorsement of Obama, McCain or anyone else (I’m a very undecided voter – and this is not a political blog)…but my short inspection of the list above suggests that as of today Barack Obama has tapped into communities perhaps the strongest at this point.

I’d love your input on this.

Who else here do you think is doing a great job with online communities and why?

Let’s keep watching this as the month’s progress and see how moods shift across candidates. As fast as communities can lift you, they can even more quickly sink you in the political realm.  I’d caution in this whole area to think hard about brand association as when you are a political candidate "you" are the brand and as others associate with you, they impact your brand (positive or negative).

Interesting? Digg it!


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posted in General Community Discussion, Social Media, Why Community Matters, web 2.0 | 2 Comments

22nd February 2007


Ok, perhaps time for a little controversy…maybe I should have said: Is “Search” stealing equity from your brand? (I think the headline I used a little more attention grabbing though…) 

Let me throw this out and see what kind of response I get.  In fairness, the answer to this question is a big, fat, definitive “maybe.”  If you are a large company that has a very strong brand, ask yourself, as you think about your community and online presence, what impact is search having on my brand?  You are investing big money and resources in your site, content and online services but your customers are finding you via Google/(search).  Let’s say your customer has a question about one of your products or services.  They go to search (right?  That is what they do) and type in what they want.  Now, let’s say that the answer found is on your website.  Great!  Or is it great?  From the standpoint of the user, who just helped them get their answer, you or Google? 

Does it matter?  If it does matter, what can you do about it? 

Maybe this is nothing new.  If you are a consumer packaged goods company and you sell your products through retail, you take a lot of risk with your brand in how the retailer presents your products.

Does that matter?  I bet it does…what do you do about that to protect your brand?  Are the lessons of that supply chain model applicable in the online "answer-chain" model example?

Not quite done with this…Back to my example above where the user found the answer on your site.  Now imagine that they found the answer and it wasn’t on your site (perhaps in another community from another user instead)?  How does this change the equation?  Hmmm…economically, this might be good.  Assuming it is your intent and you’re not re-inventing the investment in content on your site that the community already possesses.  But this example is much more complex when it comes to evaluating the brand question.  There are other benefits of the answer being somewhere else; like it might be a more believable, independent answer.  I only include this example to make the point that if you are working through the online/community model in your organization, you should consider this scenario and decide how you want to treat it.

In the case of the vast majority of companies for whom your brand is largely unknown, this equation is different.  On whole, search helps your brand/company become more discoverable than it ever was before.  So, this is certainly not a 1 size fits all debate.  


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posted in Business Strategy, General Community Discussion, Social Media, Why Community Matters, web 2.0 |

19th February 2007

Online Discussions - Insights you could use!


In the series I wrote on Convincing the unconverted, Part 3, I talked about using the data/evidence approach to convincing your business of the value of communities.  It often feels to me like many of the investments being made in communities by businesses are first and foremost about brand and brand marketing.  That is not inherently wrong, but I do feel it is too limited a purpose for communities and in fact if done in isolation to other motivations may be perceived as insincere by your users – (and, they might be right!).  I guess I tend the see marketing benefits as a good by-product of why you do communities, not the reason you do it.  I thought in this post I’d talk a little more about “insights.”  This can be broken down into a number of areas:

1.     Product feedback (both current and future) – Important:  Don’t assume you know everything you need to know from your call centers!!  That is a “going out of business feedback model.”

2.     Policy, program or content feedback

3.     Demographic insights – better understanding who uses your products

4.     Preference information – Why people use your products or why not

5.     Companion information – people who use your product also use _____?

6.     Competitive insights – whose products do they use instead of yours

7.     Unexpected insights – users often do what you didn’t intend with your products – this might indicate new markets or avenues of sales/development


Now, realistically, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do all of this – particularly in a short time frame.   Just collecting all these insights is non-trivial to say the least – it could be a massive amount of data (unstructured data)!  And taking action on it, which your users expect, is even more challenging.  Not all of it is actionable and you can’t be all things to everyone.  So deciding how to manage this is a complex, but important task. 

Perhaps, together we can share some thoughts on who we think is doing this particularly well and what we think about the approach is effective.

I’ll start with a couple of examples:

http://connect.microsoft.com/: Now, I’m not hiding that I work at Microsoft, but I don’t work on this project and either way, I still think this is very good.  The concept of connect is to provide an engagement, feedback and voting mechanism on Microsoft products.  On the splash screen, you can see connect has over 800,000 members who have registered over 225,000 bugs and over 30,000 product suggestions.  You can quickly view a list of connection opportunities, manage your participation and join others in publicly contributing and/or voting on others contributions.  Imagine, a public database of everything that is wrong with your products – this would be heresy for many companies.  But communities are all about transparency. 

http://www.dellideastorm.com/: This is pretty new, but is another interesting engine for gathering insights.  After registering, you get a quick idea of the size of the community and some light reputation based on top participants.  More importantly, you can quickly navigate user provided insights and either add to the insights or vote on existing.  As a company that brands itself on user customization, this is an interesting way to extend their customer research process.

:  Just so I’m not accused of any Microsoft biasJ  The level of activity here doesn’t seem very high yet (I think this is fairly new), but the idea is quite similar to those mentioned above.

As the collector of insights, knowing how to think about the thresholds for when you take actions and how you close the loop back will be an important part of your planning process…but the first step toward collection and transparency seems to have some obvious long term benefits.  A big challenge of feedback systems is that they can add so much noise to the system that you don’t know what to do.  That’s what I love about these examples with voting models implementing.  With nuturing, the community will manage the noise out by voting for what is good and marginalizing what isn’t most important. 

Imaging how your users will feel when they “see” their feedback in your product!!  This ain’t easy!!  But, that should be the core principle. 

Now, who do YOU think is doing this well!  (yes you, this means now you post a comment) 

Feeling informed? Digg it!


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posted in Business Strategy, Convincing the uncoverted, Part 1-4, Examples, General Community Discussion, Influencers, Social Media, Why Community Matters, online communities, web 2.0 | 12 Comments

17th February 2007

Convincing the unconverted, Part 4


Now for my favorite approach to convincing the unconverted on the importance of community. I call it the assumptive close.

#4 The Assumptive Close

I have to admit, I really like this one. It’s almost a version of guilt combined with the already mentioned techniques. It essentially goes like this: "You are going to do it anyway. Why do you want to be last?" Users are going to talk about your products, policies, licensing, people, everything! You really don’t get to decide this. The only decision you get to make is whether or not to participate in that conversation. You must also accept the fact that you CANNOT control the conversation. In fact, the harder you try the more impossible it is. So, what I’m saying is that you (your company) are eventually going to get involved in community (it’s not some fad). Stop selling the company on whether or not to engage and tell them that it is a foregone conclusion that they will. You are here to discuss not the "if," but the when and the how. Got it? Good luck.


Popularity: 17% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Convincing the uncoverted, Part 1-4, General Community Discussion, Social Media, Voice of Customer, Why Community Matters, web 2.0 | 9 Comments

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